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Published August 1, 2013

If you’ve seen the trailers for Pacific Rim you know pretty much what to expect. On the most superficial level it’s a CGI-soaked blockbuster about giant robots fighting giant monsters. Yes, it sounds kind of ridiculous, but the film is really enjoyable. Director Guillermo del Toro (HellboyPan’s Labyrinth) draws on some familiar aspects from old school monster movies and mecha anime, mixes it up with some new mythology, and delivers a surprisingly entertaining two hours.

Jaegers (image via http://www.pacificrim-movie.net/)
(images via http://www.pacificrim-movie.net/)

Set in the near future, Pacific Rim takes place a few years after humanity was blindsided by the arrival of the Kaijus; enormous alien creatures emerging from an inter-dimensional rift deep below the Pacific Ocean. In order to protect humanity, international governments pooled their resources and built the Jaegers; towering robots armed with incredible firepower and designed specifically to combat the Kaijus. They proved effective for a few years, but over time the Kaijus became stronger and ultimately overpowered the man-made war machines one by one. Eventually the world lost faith in its mechanical guardians and begin searching for alternative solutions to the Kaiju problem. The four surviving Jaegers were decommissioned and shipped to Hong Kong.

The film’s main story follows former Jaeger pilot, Raleigh Becket (played by Charlie Hunnam), who is called to Hong Kong by his old commanding officer Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). There, he steps back into the cockpit of his old Jaeger, with his new co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), and joins three other teams in a classic ‘do or die’ mission to stop the Kaijus at their source.

Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)
Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)

Undeniably Pacific Rim is visually impressive. There are some great set pieces and the film does a excellent job of capturing the sheer scope of the large-scale action sequences. But honestly, this standard of visual panache is pretty much expected nowadays – especially when it comes to big budget sci-fi films. What’s really memorable about Pacific Rim is the story.

I know I’ve been fairly vague about the actual plot, but I don’t want to give too much away. What I will say is that it makes a deceptive first impression. As I mentioned above, on it’s surface the film may seem a little shallow. However, it doesn’t subsist on the novelty of its premise, or on CG spectacle. At it’s core, the film celebrates teamwork. Del Toro avoids the ‘one man versus the universe’ approach and instead tells a story about a world under attack and the people who band together to save it. The film does a commendable job of humanising its slightly archetypal characters, and gives you a genuine reason to cheer for them.

Unfortunately there are times when Pacific Rim suffers from one or two of the narrative issues typical to its genre. None of these a major problems, and they certainly don’t spoil the movie, but the genre savvy will undoubtedly recognise them. One example: a few minor characters that I was curious to learn more about (ones that I thought would have benefited from more development) ended up only being used as cannon fodder for the Kaiju in order to raise the stakes. Again, it’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s still a little disappointing.

In some ways, Pacific Rim does exactly what it says on the box. If you’re sold on the idea of robots fighting monsters, you won’t be let down. But the film also boasts a story with enough substance to save it from becoming just another big dumb sci-fi flick. If you’re undecided about seeing it, I would recommend you do. Pacific Rim is a lot of fun.

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